Constitutionalism and Democracy Honors College Course Series
In Fall 2016, the Kinder Institute launched its Constitutionalism and Democracy course series with the University of Missouri Honors College. Comprised of four classes that cover the time period from before the Revolution through the aftermath of the War of 1812, the new series provides undergraduates of any major who are interested in the foundations of American constitutional democracy with an opportunity to explore the intellectual traditions and debates that informed the process of creating the U.S. government as well as the historical conditions under which this government began to take shape.
The primary objective of the Constitutionalism and Democracy series is to help students develop a thorough understanding of the practical structure and philosophical foundations of American government, as well as the significance of those events that comprise the narrative of the nation’s founding and early years. Achieving this objective requires interweaving the series’ two disciplinary cornerstones—history and political science—not only with each other, but also with the study of philosophy, economics, classics, and law. Stated more broadly then, the series’ goal is to allow students to explore the dynamic exchange of ideas—across eras and geographic boundaries, and between thinkers of vastly different perspectives and expertise—that was at the center of early American political history and that gave form to the core principles that the new government aspired to promote. Additionally, the sequence engages students in the critically important process of recognizing and parsing the dialectical tensions that underlie moments of revolutionary historical and political change, like the American founding.
In the course of examining the nation’s political and intellectual traditions and early history, students will devote significant attention to studying competing ideas about the structure, function, and values of national governance that were debated during the founding era and that are still very much relevant to contemporary political discourse. In addition, students will consider the various ways in which the social and political reality of the early United States contradicted the nation’s stated ideals and values and how the process of resolving these contradictions began during the republic’s first decades (and continues in the present day).
The following four courses make up the Constitutionalism and Democracy series:
POL SC 2450H Intellectual World of the American Founders: This course will introduce students to the antecedents of early American political thought, from the philosophy of Classical Greece and Republican Rome through the political and social innovations and upheavals of the Protestant Reformation and the European Enlightenment. Focus will be placed on analyzing both influence and divergence, with the ultimate goal that, upon completion of the course, students will understand the currents of thought that the Founders took into account when shaping the political values and institutions of the new nation, as well as the ways in which they deviated from prior models of and ideas about governance in order to construct a system that would meet the unique demands and conditions of North America.
HIS 2100H The Revolutionary Transformation of America: This course is designed to provide students with an opportunity to explore the practical and theoretical causes and ramifications of colonists’ resistance to British rule, as well as the major events of the independence movement and ensuing Revolutionary War. In examining the process that set the British Empire’s mainland American colonies on a surprising, transformative trajectory toward republicanism, students also will engage with primary and secondary sources that expose how, during the Revolutionary era, Americans began to confront contradictions such as fighting for liberty and equality in a slave society.
POL SC 2455H Constitutional Debates: While students in this course will draw on the material covered in the series’ “Intellectual World” and “Revolutionary Transformation” classes, the focus, here, is on political thought in practice. Specifically, the course’s goal is for students to arrive at a nuanced understanding of the issues and objectives that shaped the design of the U.S. Constitution, a goal that can only be achieved by examining the practical problems of governance that the Founders took it upon themselves to resolve, as well as the debates about the ultimate structure and function of the new government that raged during the process of drafting and ratifying the nation’s founding document.
HIS 2120H The Young Republic: In completing the Constitutionalism and Democracy series, students will focus on the time period during which the nation’s political institutions and identity began to take shape. On one hand, this will involve examining practical questions regarding commerce, religion, and international order (among many other topics) that the United States faced during the early national era. On the other hand, the course will address broad, theoretical concerns and tensions regarding the nature and character of the new union that arose as the nation’s leaders and citizens engaged in the process of building a working political system following the Constitution’s minimal instructions.
Students who successfully complete all four courses in the series will earn the Kinder Institute’s Certificate in American Constitutional Democracy. Students who then go on to complete three hours of approved experiential course abroad credit will be eligible to apply for the Institute’s Minor in American Constitutional Democracy. More information about the Minor and Certificate, and about internship and study abroad programs sponsored by the Kinder Institute, can be found here.